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Well-anchored artisans at work

Written By vibykhmer on Sunday, September 13, 2009 | 10:45 PM

Salin Kong delicately crafts another item at Artisans d’Angkor. peter Olszewski

September 11, 2009
Lily Partland

HAD things turned out differently, Salin Kong, 22, would probably have become a farmer after completing school. But he found a career after a friend told him about a six-month traditional Khmer crafts training programme to be held at Artisans d’Angkor.

“I loved the designs and wanted to reproduce them because they are traditional and I want to preserve Khmer arts and craft techniques,” he said.

So last year he applied for training in the wood-carving programme and, at the beginning of 2009, he was accepted for another programme, in silver-plating techniques.

He completed this course last month and said, “I now understand the importance of each step. Everything has to be perfect.

“As a craftsman it’s really important for me to show the skills of Cambodian people to tourists. I want to share the skills with future generations, and take care of it, so it’s not lost.”

This attitude of custodianship is perpetuated at Chantiers-Ecoles, Artisans d’Angkor’s sister organisation, set up in 1992, as a partnership between the Ministry of Education and Youth and French Development Aid, to revive Khmer arts and crafts by training people aged 18-25 years. Artisans d’Angkor was subsequently set up, originally as an NGO but became a self-sufficient business in 2003 thanks to the sales of crafts produced by graduates of Chantiers-Ecoles.

Its interests are now divided between three groups: 50 percent private; 30 percent Cambodian government; and 20 percent by the Association of Artisans, of which all 850craftspeople at Artisans d’Angkor are members.

Artisans d’Angkor now has six shop-fronts, five in Siem Reap, and a silk farm 16 kilometres from Siem Reap in Puok.

Artisans d’Angkor and Chantiers-Ecoles have produced 800 young artisans who all work for the business. The latest group, to which Kong belongs, numbered 47. There were two training programmes this year, covering silver-plating and Pursat, a type of stone carving.

Kong studied silver-plating , a complex process dating back to the Udong (post-Angkor) period of the 17th-19th centuries. During that period, silver goods were produced exclusively for aristocracy, but now they’re more affordable as more copper is used.

Visitors to Artisans d’Angkor, on Stung Thmey Street, get free guided tours, where they can see items being crafted.

A variety of goods is for sale, from one-dollar carved wooden spoons to exquisite $2,000 stone bas-relief replicas of work seen at Angkor Wat.

Last month, Cambodia’s Queen Mother, Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, visited Artisans
d’Angkor, met the artisans and bought items to be given as royal gifts during international visits.

Artisan d’Angkor’s Communications Manager Thavy Meng said, “Because we are one of the biggest employers in Siem Reap, she wanted to meet our artisans, and also because the royal family is devoted to promoting arts and crafts in Cambodia.

“She recognised the quality of the work and she wrote a message in our guestbook saying she really admired it. She wrote that she was glad the traditions and skills are perpetuated by the artisans, and that the work is very representative
of Khmer art.”

Mang Da, 38, a wood and stone carving master, has been a fixture of the workshops for 16 years. He was one of the first trainees at Chantiers-Ecoles in 1992 and studied sculpture.

His parents, farmers, had both inspired then encouraged his burgeoning interest in art.

He is now responsible for training newcomers, and said, “I want to learn more; I’m always open to new techniques. I have to continue for the experience and for my own fulfillment.”

Thong Eng Pok, 30, taught the new batch of artisans the silver-plating techniques and said, “I expect that all the young students can continue our mission by teaching the future generation.”

And so the cycle continues.


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